November Lullaby

November is a sleepwalker through the hallways of my mind. In my drowsy but lucid way, I observe the days slowly passing with a dull ache, as though a glacier of blackness were cutting through me. Like faces on the street, they disappear, one blurring into the next, becoming one day, one face, and then lost to deep night. The winter clothes have been pulled from the back of the closet, where a moth has been surviving on large patches of wool, leaving the left side of my chest exposed and cold. A smoker across the street tosses his cigarette and I watch him slowly stub it out, as though he were taking morbid pleasure in thoroughly extinguishing the last glow of autumn. The elm trees have been picked clean, and their jagged bones stab the gray November skies. Without the foliage, the people in the building across the street can see inside my window. Do they see the scribble chart plastered on the wall? Do they hear my thoughts?

Each day is more night than day, and each night is more night than the last. In this growing darkness, a moth, perhaps the same one that’s been feeding on my clothes, flutters against the computer screen, breaking my trance. Stranger bats her paw against the screen, but the moth dodges the attack. I’ve seen it all on this screen: a rat carrying a slice of pizza, baboons in a zoo reacting to magic tricks, a headless robot running an obstacle course, and a bonobo chimp in a gorilla mask chasing another chimp around a cage. Tonight I saw the saddest thing I’ve ever seen on this screen: two sexbots thrusting against each other in a deadpan enactment of copulation.

But no matter how strange and exotic the world inside my computer appears, the world outside my window is still the same gray shade of sickness. One day I see two men fighting in the street, another day an ambulance arrives and a chubby woman on her phone runs to the back of the vehicle, pounds on the doors, and tries to get in before it’s even stopped. Some days ago there was another fire drill. There must’ve been a warning about it in the November community newsletter, which I only skimmed before leaving it taped on my door, along with the October newsletter. I’ve been leaving the monthly newsletters on the door to suggest that I’m out of town. That way people are less likely to disturb me. For a while an old woman down the hall would knock on my door to tell me about Jesus and her abusive ex-husband. Another neighbor was going door to door asking for food and soap.

Clarence Pitts didn’t show up to the drill. Apparently he can sleep through a fire alarm but not the Star Trek phasers that no one else can hear. I shouldn’t say that. He’s been pretty quiet the last few days. Knock on wood. Sometimes there will be a few nights with no screaming, but when it rains it pours.

Security barely patrols now. Felix said this would happen with the new budget. My first thought was poor Grayson probably hasn’t taken off his VR helmet since he got laid off, but then I realized he’s probably just swooshing down some other building’s hallways. I considered approaching management and offering to patrol the halls for half price, but have decided to keep working undercover and pro bono. Sometimes as I’m floating down these halls, listening to the occasional TV sounds emanate from the passing apartments, I whisper a little lullaby to my fellow tenants: Take your meds . . . Go to bed . . . Everybody stay in your own head . . .

And when things aren’t running, there’s trouble.

I’ve caught a cold. Body lightly aching, nostalgic for some distant childhood fever . . . Sitting on the windowsill, wrapped in a blanket, face pressed against the cold glass, watching snow flakes drift endlessly outside. My breath fogs on the glass. This means I’m still alive. Must’ve caught it at group therapy. Guess my boundaries weren’t strong enough to protect against the alien viruses out there. Maybe I got it from Hannah, I think as I stare into the great white abyss outside.

Everyone’s always talking about how Inuit cultures have fifty words for snow. But did you know English-speaking cultures have six-hundred forty five meanings for the word “Run?” It’s true. “Run” has outrun all the other English words. Just as snow was the most important aspect of the Eskimo world—in which a linguistic distinction between thick solid snow and sinking snow meant life or death—“Run” has become the defining word of the English-speaking world. It embodies the speed and spirit of the age. Everything’s always running. And when things aren’t running, there’s trouble.

Machines are running. Trains are running. Cars are running. Everything’s running on electricity. Computers are running. Clocks are running. Tomorrow we will run faster. Time is running out. We’re running out of gas. He’s running for president. Run for your life.

But now I’m running a temperature, and feeling run down, and my nose is running, so I guess I’ll just sit here watching my thoughts run in circles, and writing run on sentences, while I wait for this cold to run it’s course . . . .

In the Jungle

In the jungle there’s a parasitic fungus that penetrates the exoskeleton of ants. It grows inside their bodies, eating the ant from the inside. Soon the ant is as much fungus as it is ant. Once inside the brain, the fungus modifies the ant’s behavior, making  it leave the colony and climb to a leaf overlooking the colony’s path where it grips a leaf with its mandibles to secure a sniper’s perch. After the ant starves to death up there, a stalk emerges from the ant’s brain. The stalk even knows which direction to grow in order to best position itself, before erupting and raining spores down on the ants below.

Sometimes I think a similar parasite has infected humans, one that uses mind control to ascend specific individuals to great heights where their behavioral and idealogical influence rains down on the public.